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Woman enjoying yoga with her friends after getting fit with hearing aids.

We tend to think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health concern.

Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to manage it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.

After a while, these choices accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?

While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are effected quite profoundly.

You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.

Dealing With Hearing Loss

Fortunately, there are two fairly straight forward ways to improve this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • It will be easier to engage in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
  • With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several connected conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.

Promoting good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health in a good way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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